The Vulnerability and Power of Goodness
Goodness was a preoccupation of the littérateurs of the eighteenth century no less than of the moralists. In an age in which worldly authority was largely unaccountable and tended to be corrupt, Fielding seems to have judged that temporal power was not compatible with goodness. In his novels, most of the squires, magistrates, fashionable persons, and petty capitalists are either morally ambiguous or actively predatory; by contrast, his paragon of benevolence, Parson Adams, is quite poor and utterly dependent for his income on the patronage of squires. As a corollary of this antithesis, Fielding shows that Adams's extreme goodness, one ingredient of which is ingenuous expectation of goodness in others, makes him vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous worldlings. Much as the novelist seems to enjoy humiliating his clergyman, however, Adams remains a transcendently vital presence whose temporal weakness does not invalidate his moral power. If his naïve good nature is no antidote to the evils of hypocrisy and unprincipled self-interest, that is precisely because those evils are so pervasive; the impracticality of his laudable principles is a judgment not on Adams nor on goodness per se but on the world. Charity and Religion
Fielding’s novels are full of clergymen, many of whom are less than exemplary; in the contrast between the benevolent Adams and his more self-interested brethren, Fielding draws the distinction between the mere formal profession of Christian doctrines and that active charity which he considers true Christianity. Fielding advocated the expression of religious duty in everyday human interactions: universal, disinterested compassion arises from the social affections and manifests itself in general kindness to other people, relieving the afflictions and advancing the welfare of mankind. One might say that Fielding’s religion focuses on morality and ethics rather than on theology or forms of worship; as Adams says to the greedy and uncharitable Parson Trulliber, “Whoever therefore is void of Charity, I make no scruple of pronouncing that he is no Christian.” Providence
If Fielding is skeptical about the efficacy of human goodness in the corrupt world, he is nevertheless determined that it should always be recompensed; thus, when the "good" characters of Adams, Joseph, and Fanny are helpless to engineer their own happiness, Fielding takes care to engineer it for them. The role of the novelist thus becomes analogous to that of God in the real world: he is a providential planner, vigilantly rewarding virtue and punishing vice, and Fielding's overtly stylized plots and characterizations work to call attention to his designing hand. The parallel between plot and providence does not imply, however, that Fielding naïvely expects that good will always triumph over evil in real life; rather, as Judith Hawley argues, "it implies that life is a work of art, a work of conscious design created by a combination of Providential authorship and individual free will." Fielding's authorly concern for his characters, then, is not meant to encourage his readers in their everyday lives to wait on the favor of a divine author; it should rather encourage them to make an art out of the business of living by advancing and perfecting the work of providence, that is, by living according to the true Christian principles of active benevolence. Town and Country
Fielding did not choose the direction and destination of his hero’s travels at random; Joseph moves from the town to the country in order to illustrate, in the words of Martin C. Battestin, “a moral pilgrimage from the vanity and corruption of the Great City to the relative naturalness and simplicity of the country.” Like Mr. Wilson (albeit without having sunk nearly so low), Joseph develops morally by leaving the city, site of vanity and superficial pleasures, for the country, site of virtuous retirement and contented...